KLAIPEDA, Lithuania – Utilizing a 4-inch height advantage over her tallest match-up, A’ja Wilson (Heathwood Hall H.S / Hopkins, S.C.) posted game-highs of 19 points and 11 rebounds in leading the 2013 USA U19 World Championship Team (7-0) to a 108-67 quarterfinals victory over Japan (3-4) on Friday night in Klaipeda, Lithuania. The win advanced the Americans to a seventh-consecutive U19 medal semifinals, and fans in the U.S. will be able to catch the USA’s final two games as both medal semifinals games and the gold and bronze medal games will be streamed live online by ESPN3.
The USA will next face Australia (6-1) on Saturday night (1:15 p.m. EDT) for the right to play in Sunday’s gold medal game as Australia defeated China (4-3) 74-65 in its quarterfinal game. Also advancing are Spain (7-0), which defeated Canada (3-4) 80-62, and France (6-1), which earned its semifinal berth with a 51-39 win over Brazil (4-3).
Duke’s Alexis Jones totaled seven points, four assists and one steal in 15 minutes of action for the USA squad. In seven games during the U19 World Championship, Jones is averaging 10.7 points, a team-high 4.4 assists and 1.4 steals.
In dominating the glass by a 70-32 margin, the American women set a new USA U19 single-game rebounding record, eclipsing the former record of 68, set twice by the 2007 U.S. squad.
All 12 U.S. team members scored no less than four points apiece, including six in double digits. In addition to Wilson, who played just 16 minutes; Bashaara Graves (Tennessee / Clarksville, Tenn.) topped out at 13 points and had eight boards; Linnae Harper (Whitney Young H.S. / Chicago, Ill.) scored 12 points, grabbed eight rebounds – five on the offensive glass – and dished out eight assists; while Nia Coffey (Hopkins H.S. / Minneapolis, Minn.), Kelsey Plum (La Jolla Country Day / Poway, Calif.) and Morgan Tuck (Connecticut / Bolingbrook, Ill.) chipped in 11 points apiece.
“Bashaara Graves started the game with a really tough mentality,” said USA U19 and University of Miami head coach Katie Meier. “At the beginning of the game, Mo Jefferson, Morgan Tuck and Bashaara Graves were just taking care of business. They were very focused; they really wanted to respond. And then Stewie (Breanna Stewart) was all over the glass and that got us some options, some run-out opportunities. She’s so versatile with the ball. I felt good about players responding to what we challenged them to do.”
Going inside early and often, the USA used its 4-inch average height advantage (6-foot compared to 5-foot-8) from the start. Bashaara Graves took a feed inside from Alexis Jones (Duke / Irving, Texas) seven seconds into a game in which the American women never trailed.
“It started in the first half with Bashaara and A’ja,” said Tuck. “They really established our inside presence. They were smaller, so we knew that’s what we had to do. Our guards did a good job for us, especially Moriah (Jefferson) really pushing the tempo. We just continued doing that in the second half.”
After a Japan miss, Bashaara Graves scored on a put-back. Japan got on the board wtih a pair from the line, but the USA followed with six straight points, four of which came after back-to-back steals, and at 6:11 the Americans owned a 10-2 lead with all 10 coming in the paint.
Japan started to fight back and cut the game to three points, 12-9, at 3:36. But the red, white and blue defensive machine clamped down, resulting in an 11-2 run to close the quarter up 23-11.
In the first 10 minutes of play, the USA notched 12 points off six turnovers, forced Japan into shooting a frigid 18.7 (3-16 FGs) from the field. Further, the Americans scored 18 of their points from the paint.
After the USA’s lead expanded to 34-18 a little over three minutes into the second quarter, Japan held the American offense scoreless for almost the next three minutes, while putting up four straight points to move to 34-22 at 4:15.
At that point Meier called for time to refocus her team. Coming out of the timeout the USA went on a 15-4 scoring run to earn a comfortable 49-26 lead with under a minute to play before half. By the time the midway buzzer sounded, the USA was up 51-32.
“Coach told us that they were going to be small, but I didn’t know they were going to be that small,” said Wilson, who had 12 points and six rebounds in the second quarter. “She was like, ‘I want you to be 6’4”, so don’t put the ball on the floor. Just look for your teammates and look for your shot.’ Once I really got used to not putting the ball on the floor, everything started to fall into place.”
Japan hit a bucket 40 seconds into the second half to make the score 51-34, but a 12-0 run in the paint, eight of which came from Tuck, put the game out of reach, 63-34, at the 6:00 mark. By the end of the third quarter Wilson already had her double-double and the USA’s advantage was 81-46.
The red, white and blue outscored Japan 27-21 in the fourth and advanced to the semifinals.
Jones finished the night with seven points and four assists. Also contributing in a big way to the record-setting rebounding effort was Breanna Stewart (Connecticut / North Syracuse, N.Y.), who had 10 to go with four points and three assists.
Yuki Kitamura scored a team-high 17 points for Japan as the USA limited Japan’s top two scorers in their first six outings. Miyuki Kawamura averaged 18.7 points and 6.7 rebounds through six games, but was held to nine points and three boards, while Mirai Tamura averaged 15.7 points and 4.7 rebounds and was held to three points and four rebounds.
In addition to the 70 rebounds, 32 of which came on the offensive end, the U.S. dished out 23 assists on 46 field goals, converted 18 Japanese turnovers into 26 points, outscored its opponents 66-22 in the paint, 30-2 on second chance points, 25-4 on the fast break and 69-24 off the bench. Additionally, Japan had four steals and scored nine points off the USA’s 10 miscues.
The USA and Australia played each other in an exhibition game on July 12 in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, and the U.S. pulled ahead late and earned a 71-66 victory.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” said Harper about the USA’s semifinal game against Australia. “We played them in an exhibition game. They’re really tough. It’s going to be a really good game. We can’t take anything for granted. We’re going to have to play every possession like it’s our last and just play hard.”
In classification games for 9th – 12th places, the Netherlands (3-4) nipped Serbia (1-6) 66-65 and Russia (3-4) downed host Lithuania (1-6) 82-68.
Assisting Meier and the U19 squad are collegiate head coaches Nikki Caldwell of Louisiana State University and Kelly Graves of Gonzaga University.
Originally known as the FIBA Junior World Championship, the tournament was held every four years starting in 1985. FIBA changed its calendar in 2006 and now conducts the U19 World Championship every other year. USA women’s teams are now 64-12 in the U19/Junior World Championships, capturing a fourth-consecutive gold medal with an 8-1 record most recently in 2011. The U.S. has claimed five of the last six U19/Junior World Championship gold medals and boasts a 52-4 record over that span, to include the 7-0 slate at the 2013 U19 Worlds.